"I forgive the man who raped me…"

Recently, writing about the terrible scandals of the church and the need for the hierarchy (and others) to do penance, I added:

The fullness of healing, of course, can only come when the victims finally feel capable of saying “I forgive you…” That moment -which cannot be compelled and does not mean forgetting- is the moment when a victim takes his life back. When a victim says, “I forgive you,” she confers her own power over the entire situation, and controls it. It is transformative; it brings a victim into his or her Royal Priesthood.

Forgiveness, I have learned, is essential to healing; without it one is held in a stagnant pool of misery. Forgiving is how you reclaim yourself and move on. Until you can forgive, the incident -whatever it is- owns you.

It seems to me that sometimes we need to forgive more than once, too. Sometimes a wound is so deep, or so tender, that the forgiveness becomes incremental, until the healing is complete:

Maybe once we have given in to the poison and power of resentment, allowed it to seep into our sinews and viscera, forgiveness has to be administered like a therapeutic treatment “reapply as needed.”

Over at Catholic Online, Jennifer Hartline tells a harrowing story that comes to a remarkable conclusion:

In 1975, as a young new wife with her own local television talk show and a husband on the verge of a political career, Rosemary Trible was viciously raped at gunpoint. A man whose face she never saw had brutally violated her body and her life, and as she says, stole her joy. Fear to Freedom is her amazing story of getting that joy back – and then some.

Don’t be too quick to assume this book is only relevant to those who’ve suffered sexual assault. That would be a big mistake. This is not a book about rape; this is an unshakable testimony to the life-changing power of forgiveness, and the awesomeness of God’s love.

In Corrie Ten Boom’s Book The Hiding Place, she writes of meeting a German soldier after the war, one who was seeking his way through the darkness of that period and into the light. After hearing Ten Boom speak of Christ, the former soldier extended his hand to her, and Ten Boom, who had suffered a cruel imprisonment and the loss of much of her family, for the crime of hiding Jews in Holland, found herself unable to take it; she had to pray for God’s help in forgiving the man and seeing him as more than an enemy or an agent of chaotic pain, but a flawed, wounded created creature, himself loved into being. Through prayer, she found herself able to extend her hand, and to forgive, and that was part of her healing, too.

Rosemary Trible went beyond the extended hand. Writes Hartline:

She prayed, “Lord, I forgive the man who raped me. And I will pray every day for the rest of my life that someone will tell him about Jesus and that I’ll spend eternity with him.” She took a step beyond mere release into love – love for her enemy! She made her own great sacrifice of selfless love for the very person who rightfully deserved her contempt and condemnation. In doing so, she realized as never before that “forgiveness is the greatest power on earth next to love.” She said to me, “When you pray for someone every day, you just can’t hate them anymore.”

There is a good deal more to the story, and it almost pierces the veil. It reminds me a little of how St. Therese of Lisieux took it upon herself to pray for the spirit of a convinced murderer, and how that ended, except Trible’s story’s ending might be even more intriguing and enlightening.

What she learned about forgiveness is for every one of us. Next to love, forgiveness is the greatest power on earth. When we forgive, the power of God is loosed in the life of our offender, to work eternal transformations. We not only set ourselves free, but we free the one who hurt us to be changed by the force of God’s perfect love.

In his Holy Rule, St. Benedict speaks of a “conversion of manner,” which is not about manners but about turning perspectives topsy-turvy, doing what seems to go against all instinct, and against all sense, in order to give God room to work. It seems to me Rosemary Trible has gone very far in this discipline.

Fear to Freedom sounds terrific.

This book does too.

Immaculée Ilibagiza on Forgiveness
Resentment, Poison and Prayer

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://profmondo.wordpress.com Warren

    Hey there, Anchoress –

    First off, this isn’t really for publication; it’s just the only way I know to get in touch with you.

    Thanks for tipping me to this book. As you’ll recall, I’m having to work through some issues of forgiveness myself these days. Maybe this book will prove useful.

    Also, just wanted you to know that I’ve put you on my blogroll. Although I’m across the Tiber from you, I feel like I’ve profited a great deal from the strength of your faith. Now that I’m blogging, I hope I can profit someone else one of these days. Thanks.

  • Russell

    Forty years ago at the age of eighteen I was kidnapped at gunpoint by three men. For thirty-six hours I was under their total control except for a few brief seconds when I attempted escape. It was in that desperate moment that I was able to take control of their shotgun and could have killed one, two or maybe all three and escaped. Instead my escape attempt faltered and I chose to fire both barrels of the shotgun into the back seat of the car instead of killing them. For so many years I wondered: was it cowardice, fear or mercy that kept me from killing the men who were intent on killing me? I can say this—there was more fear and cowardice than humanely imaginable, but I now understand that beneath it all there was an infinitesimal amount of mercy as well. Following that escape attempt, during the darkness of night, alone and locked in the cramped car trunk I had a visitation. As many others have said, It could not be described or explained in language or by any human terms, but for one moment God “lifted the veil” for me and everything changed. I learned what it meant to give up all earthly possessions; I learned that freedom was love from God; and I believed I would not live to see another day. Yet, it was that morning that everything unravelled for my captors and they had to abandon their plans which gave me another (successful) chance to escape. After all the days that have passed since I will say with a sense of certainty that all that really mattered in God’s eyes was that very small measure of mercy and forgiveness that I felt in that one moment when I acted not by thought and intelligence but with my heart. We know that we cannot rid ourselves from all the creaturely ways of our being and our intelligence and good intentions cannot save us from ourselves but as long as the smallest measure of God’s love lives in the soul then He cannot turn from us.

  • Bob Devine

    #1 – I have no problem with the concept of forgiveness although I think I might have a hard time granting it in some instances.

    #2 – I do have a problem with those that think forgiveness means that the perpetrator should not pay in full for their transgressions.

    #3 – #2 seems to be the norm today.

  • F

    Very helpful post, A.

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  • Ursula

    And yet sometimes, perhaps one must not extend one’s hand. I’m thinking Ahmadinejad here.

  • Joe

    I’ve had the blessing of participating in a prison ministry in Texas known as Bridges to Life. In that ministry I have the seen firsthand the power of all of the lessons about the importance of forgiveness that you highlighted in this post. Learning forgiveness from victims and offenders has had a profound impact on the way I have approached forgiveness in my daily life and I will be forever grateful for the lessons the victims and offenders have taught me. More information on Bridges to Life can be found at link. A good example of restorative justice in action! Thanks for your post.

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  • http://none Therisa

    I am with Bob Devine.

    I don’t forgive the monster who beat and raped me. He can go to God for forgiveness, not to me. He impacted multiple lives–those of multiple victims, and their families.

    He got a reduced sentence, education in prison, and a second chance. We victims got haunted for life, sexually transmitted diseases, and derailment of plans and dreams.

    As a society, we are too soft on perpetrators of crimes, and not cognizant enough of the longterm impact on innocent law abiding citizens. If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime. If you want the privileges of society, uphold the responsibilities. I’m for being tough on crime, not for exoneration and forgiveness of intentional brutality.

    You know what I pray for? That the innocents will stay that way, despite all the animals that are allowed to walk the streets as repeat offenders, that sort of thing. And no, “the incident” doesn’t own me, but neither do I feel truly at home in a society that will not protect its own, whether as innocent unborn children, or innocent victims of violent crime.

    Russell, I am sorry to read of your ordeal. It is good that you remain strong and walk in God’s love. Peace to you.

  • Anne B.

    “…neither do I feel truly at home in a society that will not protect its own, whether as innocent unborn children, or innocent victims of violent crime.”

    Therisa has nailed it.

    First you look after the victims, then you punish the criminal, and THEN (if you like) set about forgiving the perp. But the first step is too frequently overlooked, and pretty often the second step is, too. The victims are urged to “just let it go” – sometimes I think it’s because the people around them don’t want to want to listen, don’t want to deal with the tears and the recurrent nightmares and the grief that won’t go away. But if the victim can be made to say those magic words, “I forgive her,” then presto! it’s all over with, and nobody has to hear about it any more.

    Fifteen months with a good Catholic therapist taught me a couple of very useful things:

    1. If you forgive, you’re doing it for yourself, not for the perp. Flushing the misery and poison out of your heart is good for YOU. Never mind them.

    2. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to like them, or pretend nothing was ever wrong, or even have a relationship with them. If you can refrain from hating them, that’s a big damn victory right there.

    And BTW it’s OK for you to protect yourself. It’s not like anyone else is going to do it for you.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    I do have a problem with those that think forgiveness means that the perpetrator should not pay in full for their transgressions.

    It is not that I think that “the perpetrator should not pay in full.” Rather, I know that the perpetrator can NEVER pay in full. Wrongdoers can NEVER make full restitution, they can NEVER make the victim whole again.

    Also, it is not that I think that “the perpetrator should not pay in full.” Rather, I know that, on occasion, I too have been a perpetrator. I too have done wrong. I too have sinned. And like any other perpetrator, any other wrongdoer, I can NEVER pay in full.

    Jesus knows that too. That is why we have the Cross. Jesus does not ask the perpetrator to pay in full because He knows that it is not possible for that to happen. Instead, Jesus pays the debt. Justice IS done. Full and complete and total justice is done. Jesus takes that justice upon Himself.

    Now, we are free to reject that payment by Jesus. We are free to reject His justice and continue to demand payment from the perpetrator. But the fact is that the debt has already been paid. We cannot accept Jesus as our own personal Savior without further accepting that He is also the Redeemer of those who have done us wrong.

    Yeah, I know. Being a Christian is a bitch.

    But it is also healing. Jesus “makes all things new,” including us when we are broken. But that requires accepting Him and His love, which is extended to the perpetrator as well. That requires accepting the Cross as payment, which means personally forgiving the wrongdoer — NOT selfishly, not merely for ourselves, but as a true act of charity, i.e. love, for our enemy.

    Such selfless love, such sacrificial love is not easy. It is, in fact, very hard to “die to self” when one has already been beaten down and broken. But it is necessary to do so. Hanging on to the pain and a thirst for vengence and “justice” is NOT the path to salvation for yourself, but is, instead, the path to damnation for yourself.

    There is great danger in being a victim because, in continuing to nurse the injury, in refusing to love others as Jesus loves us, Jesus who laid down His life for us and our own sins, in refusing to truly forgive as an act of love for the wrongdoer, we only hurt ourselves. We only end up moving away from Jesus, away from healing, away from Love and Life.

    If you are a victim, including if not especially a victim of horrible wrongs, it is essential, if you wish to heal, to suck out the poison, to cut out the cancer, to undergo the harsh treatment — the Cross.

    We may have been wounded by evil wrongdoers, but the only real cure, the only way that we will be “made new,” is if we do that which we naturally fear to do, which is to go even further in suffering and take His wounds upon ourselves — make our wounds His and His wounds ours. It is only by this paradox of healing through suffering, of dying so that we might live, by joining completely His sufferings to our sufferings that our sufferings will be healed by the transformative power of His love.

    If we want the Resurrection, we must endure the Cross. But do not fear. He is with you.

  • Russell

    Dear Therisa,
    Thank you. I will keep your name close to my heart in silence and solitude.


  • http://none Therisa

    Whether or not any of your comments were directed at me, I have some thoughts on your post.

    Thinking that society is too soft on violent crime and too willing to let evil people walk free when they have already demonstrated their inability to conform to law, either God’s or man’s, is not the same as seeking vengeance. Neither can I judge how God should judge anyone. I only know that I want as safe a country/world as possible for law-abiding citizens.

    Because one will forever be affected by a violent near-death crime does not mean he or she is nursing the injury or refusing to love others as Jesus has loved us; I hate the sin, I don’t personally know the sinner.

    I thank the Lord every day that I survived, that I am loved and can love. I appreciate the little things that often go unnoticed by others. I have issues with law enforcement and our legal system, however. Maybe I am meant to. Maybe that is one little way that the Lord hopes to improve the world– he gave me a voice, he gave me a life.

    I wore a cross on a chain around my neck when I was attacked. The rapist could not help but see it as he brutalized me. I hope it is an image indelible in his mind, that little cross. I could have died, and in many ways, but I did not. Sometimes God has other plans. He may for this criminal too, I can’t know that, and I prefer to leave that up to the Lord, totally.

    You can not know how far I have gone in suffering, surely you can not even imagine the domino effect of this one event. But you also can’t know how joyful all my joys are because of it. You can’t walk in my shoes, or for that matter follow the inner paths of the victims of violent crimes or think these paths are wrong or not healed or vengeful. It is hard to follow these paths, exactly. This is because, for one reason, you know you can’t follow footprints when God is carrying us through the despair. And when we push back–maybe we are doing God’s work. Maybe we are protecting others.

    There is safety in numbers, teach your children and grandchildren this. Wandering alone is much more dangerous that hanging with others. The growing numbers of released sex-offenders and perpetrators of violent crimes is staggering, and the chance of rehabilitation is dismal. I don’t intend to ever cure evil, just warn of it, and prevent it where possible.

    Bender wrote — “Also, it is not that I think that ‘the perpetrator should not pay in full.’ Rather, I know that, on occasion, I too have been a perpetrator. I too have done wrong. I too have sinned. And like any other perpetrator, any other wrongdoer, I can NEVER pay in full.”

    — I know what you mean, but this bothers me. I don’t think the everyday transgressions of those of us who live the lives of law-abiding citizens are the same as the crimes of evil violent criminals. Yes, it may all be sin but of course stealing a cookie is not as impacting as murder. Preventing further evil by not letting murderers and rapists and molesters, etc, walk our streets is common sense, common God-given sense. That they are “paying” for the crimes is not so significant to me as that they are prevented from committing such atrocities again. That is not happening, and that is wrong. Standing up for what is right is very Christian. Sometimes our sense of right and wrong gets mucked up. (And priorities, too, and Anne B. spoke well to that.)

    (Thank you, to Russell.)

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    Therisa –

    No, my comments were not specifically directed toward you, but to all.

    And, no, I have not walked in your shoes, but I have walked in mine. Perhaps my hurts and anguish and temptations to despair are not as great as yours, but I can nevertheless sympathize with those who have been grievously hurt. As such, I also know what it takes to overcome that hurt, and what it takes to make that hurt even worse.

    Yes, some sins and crimes are worse than others. Some reach the depths of evil, while others are fairly innocuous. But Jesus means to heal the wrongdoer as well as the wronged, including the worst of the worst. So we should be very careful in comparing one set of sins to another.

    Yes, rape and murder are far more serious than stealing a cookie. But those more serious evil-doers might still make it to heaven, while the cookie thief plummets to hell. We CANNOT allow this truth of Jesus Christ to scandalize us, no matter how hard it is for us to accept.

  • http://none Therisa

    The Church makes distinctions among sins. Some are mortal, some are venial. Some it terms “grave” or “grievous.” No one said anyone at all can’t make it to heaven, no need for criminal straw men.

    My point is that you–or anyone–should be very careful in telling victims how to react, or assume
    that “Christianity is a bitch” for them, or that those who think society is soft on violent criminals are “hanging onto the pain” or “thirst for vengeance.”

    Or, that “the only real cure, the only way that we will be ‘made new,’ is if we do that which we naturally fear to do, which is to go even further in suffering…” — because you have no idea how far people have gone in suffering, or the ways in which God may have helped them, or allowed them, to heal.

    I realize that you necessarily must generalize, even though each of us with our trials and tribulations, pains and sufferings, are individuals. This is why the closest you can get is sympathy, not empathy. That is not a criticism, just a fact as to why I may bristle at some of your assertions that are off the mark, in my case. I am seeking to clarify, and of course I can take no issue with your faith. We are mainly on the same page of Catechism or Bible.
    But my turn to generalize: society does not, in general, care well for victims, or take care to prevent many heinous crimes that could be prevented by being concerned first and foremost with the welfare of the innocents. I am not knocking forgiveness, I am knocking neglect. I am knocking evil in our midst, and our tolerance of it in the name of being Christian and forgiving. While that may not be intentional, generally, it is not uncommon.

    May the Lord heal us all, in ways individually large and small.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    This is why the closest you can get is sympathy, not empathy. That is not a criticism, just a fact

    No, Therisa, it is an arbitrary statement made out of ignorance. You don’t know anything about me.

    And although you want to talk about society’s attitude toward wrongdoers, I have not touched on that.

  • Therisa

    No Bender, not an arbitrary statement whatsoever:

    I am taking you at your word that you have not walked in my shoes, Bender.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I do believe that distinctions have to be made between, say, the ordinary, everyday snubs, unintentional insults and snappishness we put up with everyday; the woman who talks too much, and wastes too much of my time, is annoying, but she really isn’t in the same league as, say, a rapist, an arsonist or a killer. A snob might hurt my feelings; a mugger can put me in the hospital. Or kill me. Or hurt, or kill, someone I love. There is a difference of magnitude in these things, it’s foolish to pretend otherwise.

    (And a cookie stealer might go to Hell—but it would have to be for a lot more than just stealing cookies!)

    Also, one can’t really forgive sins that weren’t committed against oneself; I can’t say to a criminal who murdered my neighbor, “I forgive you!” because it wasn’t me he injured. And, if I were to hamper the investigation because I didn’t want to be vengeful, or because I thought my neighbor’s family should just forgive it, and let it all go, I’d be obstructing justice—and also lacking in charity towards any of the killer’s potential future victims! (Whose blood would then be on my hands, because I could have helped stop the guy, and I didn’t.)

    And, of course, Christians who are policemen, lawyers, probation officers—who work in the justice system, have a duty to defend the public, no matter how charitable or forgiving they might be.

    I do agree with you, Therisa—our society, at large, doesn’t care enough about innocents, and makes too much of criminals, something which seems to be less about forgiveness, and more about a sort of twisted admiration for criminals. Jesus can heal sins, but I think society at large is treading on dangerous ground, when it pretends it possesses His power, compassion, and knowledge.

    Therisa, what can I say? I am so sorry for your ordeal! God love you, and bless you.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I think what many people object to is the Oprah-fication of crime, and forgiveness; notorious criminal goes on Oprah, or some similar talk show, spewing psychobabble and explaining that he’s a different person, he didn’t know what he was doing, he’s learned to manage his anger, so please, pretty please, let’s just forget the jail thing, and let him go, ‘kay?

    Criminal’s girlfriend appears, babbling about how they’re in lurve, and his victims should really forgive him, because the two of them are in lurve, and their lurve is bee-yooo-ti-fool, and they deserve to live together, and celebrate their lurve, or whatever it is that’s between them. And Oprah bobs her head wisely, and the audience cries, and any relatives-of-victims (or psychologists who hint the guy is still a danger) are presented as heartless haters.

    Forgiveness, it ain’t.

    And while criminals can never make their victims whole again, it would be nice sometimes if some of those repentant ones would do something—send their victims money, pay for their counseling bills, offer to donate a kidney—to show they really are different now, and that the whole thing isn’t just an act for the Parole Board.

  • Jennifer

    I’m very late to this comment thread, but I do hope that some of you will see this for what it’s worth.

    I want to make sure one thing is very clear regarding the book and Rosemary’s intent. She never once suggests that criminals not be held accountable and punished under the law. She’s not advocating that victims simply let their attacker off the hook and pretend all is well.

    In her case, the rapist was never found and so, never charged. She has no idea what became of him, except that she now believes he is in heaven, likely due to her prayers for him.

    She did not come to a place of forgiveness for him overnight by any means. It was a process that required her continual cooperation and she relied on God’s love and grace to help her. Believe me, she does not talk about forgiveness lightly or flippantly or insensitively. She’s been through hell, and she knows what it takes to get out of hell.

    I hope the commenters here will get a copy of the book and read it. It’s really an amazing story, and Rosemary is the real deal.